Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween, the Mask of Grief

Today is Halloween and although we do not celebrate it like we did when my daughter Marcy was alive and young enough to enjoy the night, we still answer the door to the goblin and fairy princess costumes from our neighborhood.

“How pretty you look,” I say to the young children. “And how scary you look, I tell the young boys who have on evil masks.”

We have spooky music we play when they ring the bell. We used to do that with Marcy’s friends also. Most of the very little ones scream, but they don’t run away (since most have parents with them). Some laugh, older ones think it’s corny. It is a tradition and traditions are sacred. We open the door, check out the masks and the costumes and then place candy in each bag, watching them trail off to the next house, comparing their ‘take’ to make sure they all got equal amounts.

I remember Marcy always tried to make simple costumes, ones that didn’t feel cumbersome on her. She always looked cute, and I always took pictures. After she would go trick or treating, she would bring home the candy and we’d sort it out. If it was not in a closed wrapper, into the garbage it went. She understood why we did this. Then her father would invariably ask for a few of the ones he liked and being the generous person she was, she gave him what he wanted. The candy was taken to school the next day and friends exchanged, bartered, bargained and gave away some to those who did not get to go out the night before. Many times, candy was discarded after a few weeks, but it was always a happy celebration.

These are my memories of Halloween, and I hold them close to me. Now on Halloween, I don a different type of mask, one that will cover the tears that start to form and the heaviness in my chest. Will it always be like this? Perhaps.

Halloween is one of the holidays that can still hold joy, laughter and happiness for the little ones. Never did I think that I would be wearing the mask I wear today, that of a bereaved parent. But we can still look back and remember those good times at Halloween as we do with all our memories…the only thing we have left of our children.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another Remembrance

Wow! Another voice from the past. A few days ago I received a notice from the Open to Hope Foundation, for which I write articles on surviving grief also, saying that someone was looking for me to tell me a story about my daughter Marcy. I didn’t recognize the gentleman’s name, but something told me this was the real thing, not someone trying to delve into my personal life or some quack. So I sent an email to this gentleman saying he could contact me. Within a couple of hours he called.

He turned out to be a friend of Marcy’s from the high school youth organizations the kids belonged to many years ago. In fact, he said, they went out a few times. He did not know about Marcy’s car accident at first but found out later on through other friends. He offered his sympathy and wanted me to know what a wonderful person he thought she was, a kind, gentle soul with a personality that matched. My heart soared. So many people telling me the same thing over the years. Yes, she was special. And here was another person, more than 16 years after her death, still remembering as I do every minute of every day.

He lives close to me and has always been in the area. He caught me up on his own life and the fact that he has a daughter who is almost an adult now. He sounded very proud of her.

Love her and take good care of her, I thought. Every minute is precious, because you never know what can happen in a split second. I think this but never voice it to him nor anyone else. There are some things you just keep in your heart for you alone.

Deep down, a memory of this gentleman’s name surfaced, probably because I knew most of Marcy’s friends and people she liked and dated. I was always good at names. And she was always good at relating all her experiences with me. We were extremely close.

He mentioned some other friends of both of theirs who had passed and asked if I knew any of them. Yes, I had and was sorry to hear the news of ones so young, already gone. He said he was going to read my book and then contact me again. “By all means, do,” I said. I thanked him for calling and his kind words about Marcy and he, in turn, thanked me for all the good work I do to help others.

Another day with another memory of my daughter. Perhaps it is true that I will get my wish and she will never be forgotten.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Permanent Solution To a Temporary Problem

The suicide of Rutgers 18-year-old college student Tyler Clementi, a promising young musician, has left people stunned and mourning his death. A video of Clementi having sex with another man on campus was put on the internet, causing Clementi to jump to his death off the George Washington bridge.

This most recent tragedy has brought suicide once again into the light. Here are some facts. Suicide is the 3rd leading killer of this nation’s youth, after firearms, suffocation and poisoning. Thirteen hundred people have leaped off the San Francisco bridge since it opened in 1933, making it the most popular place to commit suicide.

It is a disturbing trend and a classic example of a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

At the San Francisco bridge, preventing suicide is called ‘means reduction.’ This is when you eliminate ways people can kill themselves until the impulse passes and they can get help. At the bridge, placing a net will cost $45 million, but groups are determined to see it completed.

The message is that suicide can be avoided. According to the president of Cornell University, Dr. David Skorton, Cornell has had six students jump off a gorge bridge, “Underlying mental health issues are the main explanation for suicides, not a breakup or stress,” he said. “It’s okay to raise your hand and say you’re suffering. The most important thing we can do is to take away the stigma of seeking mental health care.”

In 2009, 13.8% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide. Lori Flynn, who runs Columbia University’s teen screen program to identify 14-17 year olds who are at risk and whose daughter attempted suicide but survived, says that sometimes it is hard to sift out what is adolescent moodiness and what is depression. When kids are asked why they didn't say something about their problems, their answer is always, “Nobody asked.” “We ask,” said Flynn.

Another counselor, Jamie Torkowski, who is the leader of the To Write Love on Her Arms non-profit movement, tours the country reaching out to teens at concerts and festivals. He started his group because of a girl he knew who took a razor blade to herself because she believed she was a failure. Torkowshi believes he has reached over 100,000 youths by social networking.

“Prevention can start with discussions,” he says. “Hear what they are saying. One key weapon is to let struggling young people know they are not alone and that we care.”

As for Tyler Clementi, the stakes of not hearing those who are young and vulnerable was brought home to Rutgers students. A tribute to Clementi was held in his hometown this past Thursday.

“If we identify social support, identify those struggling, make it okay to raise your hand and say I need help, and restrict the means to follow an impulse, we will succeed,” said Skorton.

If you have a moving story of suicide attempt or completion and would like to share it with me, send your story to

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Marcy's Anniversary and Coming of Fall

Fall is here and with that is the reminder that today would have been my daughter’s 17th wedding anniversary. How could it be so long ago, I ask myself? Seems like just yesterday she was putting on her wedding dress, married and looking forward to a bright future with her husband.

Marcy was the marketing director for the L.A. Music Center and her husband a movie producer. They had such plans as I, too, did for them. But it was not to be. Four months later she was killed in a car accident by an impaired driver.

I now look at the changing of the seasons through different eyes. The beautiful colors of the leaves and the chill in the air are all very nice, but for me, a bereaved parent, it is just another reminder of the rush of memories that will always surround me during this season.

We seem to go from one hurdle to the next. The cycle never stops, nor do our memories. We breathe a sign of relief when, each year, we survive the death date (early spring), the birthday (summer) and now the anniversary (fall), three important seasons, three of the important days in my life that I honor each year.

On all of them I go to the cemetery, clean her stone, place flowers on her grave and tell her the latest news of family and friends. Most of all, I tell her how much I love her and miss her. I believe she is watching over me each time I travel, each time I do something special or each time I write a book or article. When I travel, I always wear my Marcy necklace with her picture on it, so she can travel with me. When I write, she is the inspiration and always a part of my writings. I know she would like my latest book, because it can be of help to so many people who are bereaved and she was always the type to help others as I’ve done. I am building new memories as I move forward each day and each year.

Just know it is okay to grieve, it is okay to cry and it is okay to celebrate your child’s life in any way you feel is right. I have some friends who invite their child’s friends over on the birthday date and celebrate their life; I have others who prefer to be alone on those days. I have friends who want their child to be remembered by others and always bring up their name while other parents feel it is too sad to talk about. Still others want to make a difference, get laws passed, do some good in the world in their child’s name. There is nothing wrong with any of these ideas or any way you go about it.

We are different people now. But one thing that is always constant is the seasons of the year. I hope your fall season this year is a happy and meaningful one and that you only have happy thoughts when thinking about your child.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Writing Names in Sand and Other Information

Aloha means hello, goodbye, love, peace, compassions and mercy…a perfect word for the many emotions a mom feels who has lost a child.

I ran across an interesting site for parents who are always looking for ways to remember their child. The site, , will write your child’s name in the sands of Hawaii. What a beautiful place for a remembrance to find comfort in seeing the name in print as another verification that our child existed.

This whole idea started out when Emily had a stillborn named Gabriel and her sister wrote his name in the sand of a beach close to her home on the North Shore of Hawaii and sent it to her. It is a beach set aside as a quiet place of reflection. The written name is not permanent, but rather just there for a few minutes before the waters wash it away. It is a brief moment in time, but one that most bereaved parents can treasure.

Email the name of your child who died to , and they will write the name in the sand, snap a photo, and post it on the blog for you or email or snail mail it to you for a small fee. All the information is on the web site including some pictures taken. It is a touching tribute in the sands of time.

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP and author of "When Every Day Matters: A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life" in her recent newsletter discusses "How To Chose A Therapist," if you need one. Her main point is that a client can feel more understood when the therapist has clinical experience with the situation the client is bringing to therapy, and, if the therapist has the same personal experience, even better. I agree that this is so true, particularly after the death of a child. A friend of mine tried therapy with a grief counselor who was not bereaved herself, and my friend said the counselor had no clue as to how the bereaved mother felt. Mary Jane emphasizes that one should be wise when choosing a therapist and to pick someone who is intelligent, kind, confident, qualified and one you feel a nice rapport with. You can read more about this topic by contacting Mary Jane at

Think about going to one of the following conferences in 2011 and plan ahead so as not to get shut out of hotel space. These conferences include:

TCF National Conference in Menneapolis, MN, weekend of July 14 -17. Over 100 workshops to help parents, grandparents and siblings.

BPUSA Gathering in Reston, VA ,weekend of July 29-31. Many workshops for bereaved parents.

POMC Conference in Milwaukee, WI, August 4-7. Specifically for parents who lost their children to murder.

Frankfort, Kentucky, Regional Conference March 25-26 has the theme "Words of Wisdom, Hearts of Love." Many speakers and workshops.

Also held each year is the Now Childless Mother's Day brunch. Jim and Ann Cook, who hold this event each year in Ft. Salonga, have offered to give tips on how to start one of these gatherings in hopes that this event will spread throughout the country. Contact them at for more information.

Serenity Cards and Grief Journals is a project that Patricia Mombourquette is extremely passionate about. It has been over a year in the works from an idea to a reality. The words of comfort, support and practical advice offered in the cards and journals have been drawn from personal grief experiences as well as twelve years of associated training and experience in grief and bereavement support and critical incident stress management (CISM). She has also incorporated several years of experience volunteering with the local Crisis Line and Workplace EAP. Contact Patricia at .